The Great Media Collapse of 2009


I don’t think most of us fully comprehend the seismic collapse taking place right now in the mainstream media.

Mainstream Media: Its only a flesh wound.

Mainstream Media: "It's just a flesh wound."

This is from TIME magazine: “The crisis in journalism has reached meltdown proportions. It is now possible to contemplate a time when some major cities will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network-news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.”

This is from Salon: “Journalism as we know it is in crisis. Daily newspapers are going out of business at an unprecedented rate, and the survivors are slashing their budgets. Thousands of reporters and editors have lost their jobs. No print publication is immune, including the mighty New York Times.”

It actually may be worse than that. Traditional media is on its death bed – particularly those that rely on the printed page (magazines and newspapers). But local TV broadcasters are also showing “flu-like symptoms.” The next several years will completely and fundamentally alter the media landscape like no other period in history. And as a result, business as usual for people who rely on the media – from journalists to PR consultants – simply isn’t possible.

The patient closest to death are newspapers. For all intents and purposes, the newspaper industry is a corpse and we’ll soon be burying it with dignity. Newspapers are over. Getting stale information that is already 12-hours old when it is delivered to your house just isn’t a model that can survive in the age of instant messaging and RSS. Ask yourself this: when was the last time a newspaper broke news?

It is likely that big, respected newspapers such as the Boston Globe, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Daily News, and the Philadelphia Daily News will be history by 2010.

The magazine business isn’t doing much better. Advertising Age has kept a running tally of the brand-name magazines that ceased publication since March 2008. The list of 28 magazines continues to grow and features: Best Life, Domino, PC Magazine, O at Home, Travel & Leisure Golf and Playgirl. But the Ad Age list isn’t even complete. It doesn’t include: Blueprint, Cottage Living or House & Garden (and at least four or five more).

The fear is that the death of newspapers and magazines will kill the “news” business. Let’s hope not. But so far no one has been able to figure out how to maintain expensive news operations and make money presenting the news only on the Web. Online advertising simply isn’t as lucrative as its counterpart in print advertising. That will need to change at some point.

But make no mistake. The collapse of the mainstream media has the fundamentals of journalism on shaky ground. Don St. John, the online editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, made an interesting point in a conversation about the industry yesterday. Don said that newspapers (and magazines) are slashing their reporting and editing staffs to save money — basically cutting major areas of coverage, charging their readers for less content, and hoping that readers won’t notice. Don argued that in an age when content is most important – newspapers are hacking off their capabilities to produce that content.

In other words why are newspapers and magazines trying to save the physical “newspaper” and “magazine” by not cutting out print and production costs, delivery and transportation costs, and the cost of operating fleets of trucks and printing plants? They should be jumping on to the web – slashing all the operational and production costs and holding on to their most valuable assets: reporters and editors.

Jack Moran on his blog PR Workbench had a post about how news outlets are reducing staff and relying on freelancers to fill in the holes. Citing information generated from Matchpoint, an online PR and media database company, Jack wrote that the majority of journalists being tracked by Matchpoint were no longer employed by a media company. Most of the journalists were, in fact, freelancers.

As Jack noted: “Contributors, including freelancers and syndicators, are rapidly becoming the new mainstream.”

So here is where we find ourselves during this – the Great Media Collapse of 2009 : printed formats collapsing, broadcasting in trouble, media companies in financial turmoil, journalism staffs being hacked to pieces, content creation being pushed to freelancers and more people relying on their “news” from blogs and other online outlets that don’t practice the same strict rules of journalism as the traditional press.

This is why PR practitioners can no longer rely on media relations to anchor their communications programs. It is imperative for PR consultants to start embracing social media and helping their clients create their own content and market them through new channels rooted on the Web. It’s not just a luxury, but a matter of survival.

4 Responses to “The Great Media Collapse of 2009”

  1. Unfortunately there has been a lot of magazines dropping off and this weakening economy is going to push more out of business. Much of this is due to weak management building on shaky foundations and using smoke and mirrors to convince advertisers and investors that there is more than there really is. We at http://www.MagazineCircus.com are helping the people in the magazine industry better understand reality and to make more transparent the good and the bad in the magazine business.

  2. Until Kindle or laptops get to the point where they’re no more complicated than opening up a book, print magazines will survive, just as print books have for millenia.

    This is not to say that newspapers will carry on as usual. Short articles are just as easy to read online as in print. Also, most of a typical newspaper’s content isn’t unique, so why not read it unedited at AP or Reuters.com? Local newspapers will definitely get smaller, and we may a dominance of those freebie newspapers which only contain local coverage. Young people aren’t usually in the habit of buying newspapers, but they’ll gladly take freebies to read in the bathroom.

    While it’s true that many magazines are failing, many more replace them every year. It’s a saturated, niche-filled market. The forecast is good for magazines that serve their market well, can negotiate the balance between being consistant and staying relevent, and that have a stable business plan. But many magazines lack the financial or intellectual backing to make it beyond a few years, and that’s how it’s been forever. Benjamin Franklin once published a magazine that only lasted six months.

    Is the industry in a time of transition? Probably. But I think this talk of “collapse” is a bit overblown.

  3. Hi Elizabeth:
    Thanks for your input. Kindle is already as easy to read as a book. Books have survived a “millenia” because there has never been a viable alternative. There is now.

    The print business has been in rapid decline for more than a decade and with major newspapers now on the verge of economic collapse (and almost 30,000 jobs lost so far), I don’t think the word “collapse” is at all overblown.

    In fact, it’s quite accurate. But don’t take my word for it. Take the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, who canceled the group’s convention for only the second time in history because (quote from AP):

    “The industry is in crisis,” said Charlotte Hall, president of the trade group and editor of the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. “This is a time when editors need to be in their own news rooms doing everything they can to help their publications survive.”

    That’s pretty much says it all.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Magazine Industry Collapse of 2009? | Magazine Industry news, Magazine Industry trade network & forum - Magazine Circus - March 14, 2009

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